Queried progress of NBN rollout in Armidale

Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales—Nationals Whip in the Senate) (19:05): I rise to take note of the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network fourth report. I refer to one part of it which says:

The service was launched in Armidale, New South Wales providing a 12 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream service. The service was initially offered through five retail Service Providers (RSPs). Since launching, another seven RSPs have come online.

The NBN rollout in Armidale is a farce. Those are not my words. They are the words of the Armidale Express. Under the headline 'NBN roll out a farce: firms call for industrial precedent', the article states:

Multinational companies trading in Armidale's largest industrial estate are among businesses to have been ignored in the roll out of the National Broadband Network.

The estate, located on the southern outskirts of town, is responsible for 12 per cent of Armidale's economy, and businesses have been told the fibre optic network would only be rolled out if they paid the $225,000 bill.

How often have we had Senator Conroy in this place gloating about the rollout of the magnificent NBN, when here the businesses in Armidale that are responsible for 12 per cent of the Armidale economy, have got to cough up $225,000 if they want to if they want to have fibre to their business. This is amazing. I have asked questions during Senate estimates about how much has been rolled out in Armidale, what has it cost et cetera, but we cannot get a decent answer. We cannot find out what is going on with this rollout and we get some general response from the NBN.

This is the answer I received about the rollout in Armidale. I asked: how much has been spent on the NBN rollout in Armidale; how many homes have been connected; how many businesses have been connected? This is the answer I received:

Now that the NBN Co. has reached volume rollout, it is impractical for NBN Co. to provide an ad hoc update of financial and deployment metrics to a level of granularity not already provided for public releases.

What does 'granularity' mean? I looked up 'granularity' and it means 'the extent to which a system is broken down into small parts'. I believe NBN Co. and the minister are treating this Senate with contempt. I asked: how many residences have been passed by NBN in Armidale? How many people have actually hooked onto it? What has it cost? We cannot find out. I am sure many people in Armidale are simply laughing about this. As I said, the local paper, the Armidale Express, referred to the NBN rollout as a 'farce'. I believe there is not one high school in Armidale hooked up to NBN; not one public school in Armidale is connected; not one public hospital in New England has been connected; and, of course, this was the baby of Independent, Tony Windsor. What a great program this is going to be. But he would not back the cost-benefit analysis study into the NBN. No, he would not do that. Let's just cover it up.

Now we have businesses up for nearly one-quarter of a million dollars—these businesses are 12 per cent of the local economy in Armidale. 'Let's cough up a quarter of a million so you might be able to get a faster broadband system.' It has been an absolute embarrassment. When I talk to the locals in Armidale, they say the waste of money is huge. We cannot find out how much has been spent. 'Granularity' is all we get—some vague, ridiculous statement. I have put those questions on notice twice to NBN prior to Senate estimates.

This is what we are facing now. I asked further questions—of course, no answers, just vague general comment. It is just amazing. What has been covered up here? Is it so embarrassing to Minister Conroy and this government that this rollout has been so expensive, so inefficient? Now we have businesses having to come up with $225,000 if they wish to hook up to the NBN in Armidale. It was a big gloating system when Armidale was the first to launch, in Mr Windsor's seat of New England, where I live. It was politics being played when they went up there and flicked the big switch—but there was nothing hooked to the switch. It was a waste of $100,000 for a publicity stunt, but with this government taxpayers' money means nothing, just like debt means nothing with $267 billion of gross debt that you have racked up in a such a short period of time. I do not know who is going to pay for it—we are not going to pay for it—but I can guarantee you one thing: in the next decade or two you will never see Australia back to the magnificent financial position that this government inherited from the Howard government. You were debt free with money in the bank. Now there is a gross debt of $267 billion. Of course, the NBN rollout is contributing to that debt. They do not even put it through the budget, just tack it on to the Australian Office of Financial Management, just book it up every month, keep spending. There is no accountability of what we are actually getting. It will come out in the end. We will find out. It might take some time but we will find out the truth.

Question agreed to.